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Rest and Relaxation

[Written during my year-end vacation]

How is your transition going as you start the New Year? I am fortunate enough to have an extended transition period to mid-January to slowly slide into the start of activities in the New Year. So I decided to write on the topic of rest and relaxation. What I am noticing is how important it is to have time and a place to unwind completely. Do we allow ourselves that ‘luxury’? Our belief might be that we must remain dutiful and ‘busy’ or risk everything falling apart. Sometimes we don’t actually know how to relax as we maintain a constant state of low to high-grade activity laced with anxiety and worry. Hyper-busyness is a defense against slowing to the deeper feelings and states that exist underneath the restless surface.

Of course, there are situations where, by necessity, we have to be continuously ’on duty‘ and responsible, such as when we are care-taking an ill or disabled relative, or have children in our home. Our children demand a certain level of activity and structure that keeps us on our toes. Yet, even in that situation, time must be allotted for both parents, together and apart, to have space and personal time to deeply rest and find personal solitude. The same self-care priority needs to be in place for those with care-taking commitments.

As high levels of activation are critical to living a productive and fulfilling life, so is developing our ability to stop and unwind – allowing a different rhythm to take over. We can alter our autonomic nervous system to move us out of a chronic fight-or-flight state and allow for a more continuous parasympathetic flow of ease and relaxation. If we can create sufficient relaxation and worry-free time, it resets our autonomic system to have lower vigilance and agitation. We move from focused to a less-focused orientation and that helps disable the vigilance that reflects our fight-or-flight or sympathetically tuned status.

It is challenging to find both adequate time and an environment that is free of commitments, expectations and demands. I am suggesting that we calendar in at least 2-4 times per year ­– sufficient time when all demands can fall away. You can think of it as a retreat – finding a sanctuary – a space in time where you let go and ’drop out‘. Take enough time to afford a change in your consciousness to one of spaciousness with less focused definition. Of course, reducing our media exposure allows us to experience the flow of other uninterrupted feelings, thoughts, sensations and, most importantly, quiet.

If our identities are established exclusively through work, then it will be harder to let work go for a stretch. We may rely on work for our sense of self, and to give it up means we might experience loss of self or depression… so we keep driving ourselves throughout the year as a way to feel OK. Or we feel irrationally threatened that if we stop working for a period, we will lose our sense of security or financial abundance. And there are deep survival fears that lurk in the shadows and drive us on relentlessly. We can go years and years without ever giving ourselves the needed rest, pleasure, and rejuvenation of real play.

Pick a place where you can feel content and at ease, with your basic needs met. Natural settings can be soothing but so can cities if you are having fun in the exploration of cultural pleasures. Also, adventure can be an added spice that pulls us out of our normal limits and restrictions. Throw in some spice to make the stew tasty!

In the expanded time away from work, the unfocused state becomes more pervasive. So if this blog is a bit formless, you will know why. Just listening to the sounds, tasting the new flavors, feeling the different textures of a new place is expansive. I am allowing time to float rather than control and impose.

Give yourself permission to relax as it is important for your mental and physical health. If we feel anxious that we have to perform, or define our existence at all times through what we do, then we will be driven and not be able to stop. I am suggesting a balance between hard work – defined by commitment, creativity and actualization – and real time segments for retreat, away from home and in a special space where you feel free to settle and give in to deep rest and rejuvenation. So, with the New Year, get out your calendars and mark off your vacation time. Figure out something different if you are prone to always doing the same thing. Create an adventure – one that includes downtime. If you have a partner, join together in this planning for 2015. If we don’t create retreat opportunities, we won’t do it.

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